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Prosecutor turned school administrator: Meet the new headmaster at Manlius Pebble Hill school

Scott Wiggins, the new headmaster at Manlius Pebble Hill school, was looking forward to the first day of school and the school’s traditional handshake ceremony where he would get to meet every student and teacher.

Instead, Wiggins found himself in a hospital bed at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center for the first week of school as he battled a staph infection in his foot.

“It was frustrating beyond all measure,” he said.

Now Wiggins is settling into his new role at the school, and getting ready to launch some new initiatives .

Wiggins said he attended public school, and in that time only one teacher made a difference in his life. And that’s why he chose the independent school route in his career.

“That’s why this school exists,” he said. “The most important ingredient in a private school is the relationship between students and the faculty. The teachers need to connect with the kids in a strong , healthy way so the kids are motivated, and that personal connection does that.”

Wiggins comes to MPH through an unusual professional path.

He originally decided to become a pediatrician and spent a year in medical school before changing his mind. He then taught math at a private school, but decided to attend law school instead.

As a lawyer, he spent five years as a prosecutor in Pennsylvania before giving that up to return to independent school education.

“I thought the law would be good training for me, and I thought I did well as a communicator in front go a jury,” he said. “Every day was compelling and it was very empowering, but I knew if I didn’t get back into independent education, I probably never would.”

Wiggins worked for independent schools in Connecticut, New Orleans and Massachusetts. He started his MPH job on July 1, taking the post once held by Baxter Ball, who was headmaster from 1990 to his death in 2011.

“I’m definitely following an institution, and I’m ever mindful of that,” Wiggins said. “But new blood is needed and necessary, and everyone wants me to cut my own path here.”

Wiggins is a strong believer and advocate for independent school education.

MPH competes with the public schools for students, and it needs to offer value-added education, Wiggins said. “I’m not sure we’ve been as aggressive in recruiting for students as we need to be,” he said.

“That means looking for students with a voracious appetite for vigorous learning. We want kids who have that academic rocket strapped to their backs,” Wiggins said. “It may not be lit, but it has to be there. We’re not for the fainthearted.”

He said MPH is not a school for everybody.

“In the past, we’ve tried to be all things to all people, and we can’t do that anymore,” he said. “We need to figure out who we are, and then go out and sell that, and let the community know.”

He said many people think because MPH is an independent school, it can address everyone’s interests.

“That can mean having a great football program, a riding program or even a special sewing class,” he said. “But we have to be careful not to spread ourselves too thin. We have to decide what we’re good at, and then focus on that.

Wiggins said he wants to better unify the school’s lower, middle and upper schools; and continue growing the school’s endowment. Enrollment has dipped slightly, and Wiggins said that may be because the school’s message is garbled.

“Once we have a better sense of who we are, we can go into the community with that message,” he said. “We think we are the best at what we do, but we have to articulate our mission a little better, and justify that expenditure parents pay to send their kids here.”
Elizabeth Doran can be reached at or 470-3012

Scott Wiggins
Why is he in the news? He started his first school year as head of Manlius Pebble Hill in DeWitt
Age: 57
Family: Wife, Susan, and twin daughters, Lexie and Cayce who are in ninth grade
Education: Wiggins has a chemistry degree from Boston University and a law degree from the College of Law at Arizona State University. He practiced law for several years as an assistant district attorney in Chester County, Pa.
Background: Wiggins has been involved in independent school education as a teacher, coach, and administrator for more than 25 years. He recently left the Lawrence Academy, a grade 9 – 12 coeducational boarding and day school in Groton, Mass., after eight years as head of school.

He also spent eight years as principal of upper school at Metairie Park Country Day School in Metairie, La.; dean of students, director of residential life, and mathematics chair at a junior boarding school in Connecticut; director of athletics at a junior boarding school in Boston; and director of admissions and financial aid at a grade 9 – 12 boarding school in Colorado.
Interests: Wiggins is an avid ice hockey player, and ice fisherman.